Month: October 2017

The CEC State of the Nation report

The latest publication from the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) continuing their expanding library of research, State of the Nation 2017: Careers and enterprise provision in England’s schools was published earlier this month. Utilizing the “State of the Nation” title also employed by the annual updates from the Social Mobility Commission (and so helping affirm the aims of the CEC with policy makers), this is a publication which shows the Company moving on from earlier releases which audited the CEIAG landscape and onto a new stage of updating on progress made.

The report is based on 578 responses from secondary schools who have completed the online Careers program auditing tool, Compass, and the comparison of this set of data with the data collected for the original Gatsby Good Career guidance report in 2014.

The CEC makes a number of claims from this exercise but the accompanying media coverage focused on the responses which indicate an improvement in school provision since 2014 as more schools report that they are meeting more benchmarks.

There is evidence of improvement since the original Gatsby survey in 2014. Schools in 2016/2017 are achieving an average of half a Benchmark more than they were in 2014/2015 (1.87 versus 1.34). The proportion of schools not achieving any Benchmarks has fallen by one third from 31% to 21%. The proportion of schools achieving half the Benchmarks has more than doubled from 6% to 16%

Which sounds positive but these are figures which should be treated with caution and, like the rest of the report, taken in the round alongside other data. These are the points I found most interesting in the report:

1. This is a small number of schools and a narrow method of evidence collection

As can be seen in the Appendices, the 2014 Gatsby report used multiple sources of evidence to form it’s benchmarks, recommendations and costings. Six overseas visits took place with interviews with practitioners, policy makers and stakeholders in these countries conducted. Visits and interviews with six Independent schools also added to the evidence base as well as reviewing eighteen previous reports on CEIAG provision. Finally an online survey was completed by 361 secondary schools in winter 2014.

gatsby school profiles

The breakdown of the responding schools

As a baseline, 361 schools (from approximately  3329 secondary schools at the time) is a thin slice so it’s positive that 578 have used the Compass tool but this is still small. The 2014 figures included only 9 schools then judged as Requiring Improvement by Ofsted, the 2017 report does not include this figure. In 2017 there are now 3408 secondary schools in England so 578 equates to roughly 17% of secondary schools responding.

2. This is based on self evaluation

Asking any professional if they do a good job isn’t going to get objective responses. Both the 2014 and 2017 reports are clear to point out that questions of validity could arise both from the bias of the overall sample (those taking the time to complete the survey could be more likely to be interested in CEIAG for example) and responses being overly generous to the CEIAG provision on offer in their establishment (via the Overconfidence Effect).

None of this data relates to outcomes. No students are asked by an objective third party on their view of provision, no destination data monitored, no LEO data cross referenced, no employers surveyed. Self evaluation via online questionnaire is an extremely limited (but cheap) method of providing reference points and progress evaluation.

This is typified by the inclusion of one of the case study schools that reported itself to be meeting “seven or eight” of the Gatsby benchmarks. Looking at the most recent KS4 destination data (2015) for that school, you can see that all of the data that a school with a strong CEIAG offer should be achieving well on, the school isn’t:

  • Pupils staying staying in education or employment for at least 2 terms after KS4 is 86%, well below the 94% average for English state funded schools
  • Pupils not staying in education or employment for at least 2 terms after KS4 is 11% well above the 5% national average
  • The percentage of KS4 leavers moving into Apprenticeships is 3%, half the nation average of 6%

It’s important to remember that behind all of those statistics are the actual students who each had their own story, background and challenges to overcome but these are not the statistics to highlight the positive social justice leveling work of CEIAG,

The report references these omissions on page 26 and makes the somewhat valid point that

One limitation of attainment and progression data is that it is backward looking and thus if we look for relationships between the Compass data and outcomes, we are comparing one cohort’s career provision with another cohort’s outcomes

and conclude that the destination data sources mentioned above could be used to correlate with Compass data over a longer period of time. This would enable relationships (if any) between consistent quality CEIAG provision and student outcomes to be found. This is an admirable goal to be supported in future but it isn’t how accountability in education works. Ofsted gradings are held by schools for years after the inspection took place, a young person leaving Year 11 this summer might have attended an “outstanding” school but could be based on a verdict of provision that happened seven years ago. There is always a lag between monitoring of provision and actual provision.

3. Further bad social mobility vibes

Another of the included case studies is also a little tone deaf for an organisation that is keen to show that it playing it’s role in the Government’s social mobility agenda through the Opportunity Area policy. Including Simon Langton Girls Grammar School, a selective entry school whose pupils, including the 5.6% eligible for free school meals, must take the Kent Procedure for Entrance to Secondary Education tests to enrol is at odds with the overall aim of both the document and the CEC.  The CEIAG work at Simon Langton might be exceptional, it certainly features prominently on their website, but this is not helping disadvantaged pupils. Areas with selection at age 11 fail the poorest children and the CEC should steer clear of involving itself in work that perpetuates these outcomes.

4. If the survey responses are to be believed, then Quality Mark Awards are far too generous

The 2017 data survey data reports that schools that hold a Careers Quality Mark (now all joined together in the Quality in Careers Standard) achieve a higher number of Gatbsy benchmarks than those schools without but that this still only reaches an average of 2.63 of the 8 benchmarks for those schools. This is a blow to those who advocate that Quality Marks are a valid indicator of provision quality. The results of a self reported survey, including the biases mentioned above, are reporting that their CEIAG provision does not meet the benchmarks the external monitored Quality Marks claim they do. That there is so little congruence between these results is evidence that Careers Quality Marks assessment and monitoring processes have not been anywhere near stringent or demanding enough and need to improve. As the report says

As the Quality in Careers Standard works towards aligning fully with the Benchmarks we would expect to see schools achieving the Quality in Careers Standard reaching all eight Benchmarks

but this will be a challenge for a service paid for by the schools who have volunteered to be inspected to achieve.

Showing the impact of the type of strategic work the CEC is involved with is always going to be difficult. With so many stakeholders involved in the delivery of provision and so many factors influencing the outcomes for young people, concentrating on the input factors to begin with is sensible but, due to a total reliance on self evaluation, this is also with it’s downsides. Over the forthcoming months I would expect to see the CEC to transition towards utilizing more quantitative data sources on which to base their judgments of progress.

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Halfon’s barmy apprenticeship idea

Individual MP’s are perceived differently by members of the public, some work hard to even be noticed, some work hard on their public persona and some just work hard. One MP who I usually place in the last of those categories is the ex Education Minister Robert Halfon. Not being a constituent of his, my perception of his work was mostly formed by seeing his tenacious but effective style on the BBC documentary, Inside the Commons and his work as Minister of State for Skills July 2016 – June 2017. His recent election to the position of Chair of the Education Select Committee shows both his interest to remain at the centre of the education policy process and his ability to get the support of his fellow MPs.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Halfon appeared with his Skills Ministerial successor, Anne Milton, at fringe event entitled, “Lost Learners: Delivering a skills revolution and providing opportunities for all” in which he suggested that

“We should look at things like the pupil premium and whether or not certain parts of it can be based or dependent on how many students they get, especially from deprived backgrounds, to go into high-quality apprenticeships,”

and that this would be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to improving the breadth of  careers advice on offer schools.

Let’s make no bones about it, this is an extremely bad idea. Lots of bad ideas will be floated at fringe conference events of all parties but that this came from the chair of the Education Select Committee is what makes it noteworthy. Previous holders of that post, particularly Graham Stuart MP, who championed and challenged Careers provision in schools while in the role, were much more judicious in their public offerings on Government policy.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

1.

As I’ve covered (it feels exhaustively over the years), there are not apprenticeship vacancies to fulfil the demand from young people.

In 2016/17

over a quarter of a million 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies

And that’s the number of total apprenticeships, if Halfon means by “high quality” those at the higher levels and (usually) pay scales then the opportunities on offer are even further away from fulfilling demand.

apprenticeship vacancies by level

With Higher and Advanced level apprenticeship vacancies totalling 44,930 or 26.5% of the total number of apprenticeship vacancies in 16/17. There were over 1.5 million 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. If the ratio of students to vacancies is so high, then Halfon’s suggestion would lead to schools losing pupil premium money no matter the quality of CEIAG on offer.

2.

Pupil Premium is becoming a core budget stream for schools.

As detailed in this House of Commons library Briefing Paper, Pupil Premium now equals different funding amounts for pupils dependant on their age and personal circumstances. In total though, the funding is worth £2.5bn each academic year to English schools. Surveys report that around a third of heads are having to use their Pupil Premium funds to cover other costs in school, not purely for closing the attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and it is the schools from the most disadvantaged areas most often affected. This would mean that the schools having to work hardest to propel their pupils along Halfon’s own “ladder of opportunity” metaphor would be the most affected by any cut in Pupil Premium funding dependant on employment outcomes. This would make it even harder for future cohorts of those schools to provide provision and so positive outcomes.

3.

The proportion of pupils claiming Free School Meals (and so receiving Pupil Premium funding for their school) is falling.

free-school-meals-graph

Pupils do not automatically receive FSM, they (their parents/guardians) have to apply. Only those who have applied are used to calculate a school’s Pupil Premium funding so it is in the schools interests to encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to apply but not all do. Uptake is also linked to other factors, eligibility for FSM can be dependant on income related benefits which, as the linked article above points out, means that Government changes to benefit eligibility have a knock on effect. Larger scale changes such as Universal Credit can be introduced without their consequences on reliant funding streams being fully determined. These are factors which all influence a school’s pupil premium funding before any CEIAG provision to help a student gain an apprenticeship has even taken place.

Monitoring and reporting on a school’s CEIAG provision and including actual destination data of that school’s students in that monitoring are all sensible levers for policy makers to pull to build up CEIAG focus and provision in schools. Policy makers should use data rather than anecdote to form policy and conclude that to increase the numbers of young people securing apprenticeship vacancies there needs to be more vacancies and young people need funded, dedicated support to have the skills and experience to successfully apply for them. Suggesting that a school’s funding be removed if it’s pupils do not secure rare and highly sought after routes would make the job even harder for the schools who find this most difficult already. It is a baffling proposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HE Careers support and consumers

The trend for Higher Education students to think of themselves as consumers of a service rather then learners in a place of education is a wider societal change accelerated by tuition fees and qualification demands of and competition within the labour market. A recent survey (“Education, Consumer Rights and Maintaining Trust: What students want from their university”) carried out by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK found that 47% of student now considered themselves “customers” of their Universities. There will be diverging views on this as some will welcome the customer focus and efficiency this brings while others will mourn the loss of a sense of the value of learning for it’s own sake.

An offshoot of this growing viewpoint seems to be an increase in the quality of support services students expect to access during their time at University which, in turn, is both a boost to the standing of Careers departments in Higher Education but also a raising of expectations. The survey results show a clear desire from students to receive personalised support and advice from their University with 80% responding that this was one of their top three priorities and 34% (which was the second highest after “a service for the fees you pay”) placing it as their top priority.

universities uk report

Students expect their university to take an active interest in them as an individual and to help them progress through their education, as well as providing careers guidance and support.

The importance of their University experience in helping their career progression is also clearly apparent in student views on what makes a course good value for money.

universities uk report2

The inclusion of “future career prospects” here is interesting because it would seem to include not only stand alone Careers Service offers but also the employability offered by the degree being studied. The collaboration needed to embed Careers work into programmes of study and academic departments is a strategy that colleagues in Higher Education would be more able to give their view on but the example in this recent article in the Times Higher Education from the Director of Graduate Advancement at Liverpool John Moores of “faculty teams” developing “academic school career plans” seems to be a model to emulate.

The growing importance of Careers Service provision to student satisfaction levels (and so marketable statistics for a HE institution) will be a boost to colleagues in HE who, like many practitioners, are conscious of the need to justify their departments. The slides below from a presentation at last month’s AGCAS conference by Nalayini Thambar, Director of Careers & Employability at the University of Nottingham, are a neat way of approaching this task

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Lists of types of provision won’t cut it

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But how problems are solved does

All of this adds up to a promising time for Careers support services in HE as they become central to the future plans of any UK University. The recent news that almost half of young people in England are now progressing onto Higher Education and the potential growth of other employer linked courses such as Degree Apprenticeships shows that (bearing in mind fears over Brexit restricting recruitment) the demand for Higher Education places is still very strong. With the right promotion, collaboration and support from Vice Chancellors and their Executive teams, Careers provision in HE has the drivers to go from strength to strength over the coming years.